I’ve come to accept I'm not one of the longest guys on tour, so if I'm going to beat guys who are 20 to 30 yards longer off the tee—like I did at the 2015 RSM Classic and the 2017 Dean & DeLuca Invitational—I have to keep the ball in the fairway. My stats prove that. Heading into the British Open in July, I was 35 under par on approaches from the fairway between 50 and 175 yards. In the same range from the rough, I was 14 over. That's a big difference. Being a solid driver means having more than one way to find the fairway. I'm going to teach you four, one for each type of wind condition. Pair the correct play with that wind, and you'll be hitting your next shot from the short grass. — With E. Michael Johnson
SLICE WIND: PLAY IT FORWARD
With most tee shots, I start by determining where I need to drive it to leave the best angle into the green. Then I check to see how the wind might impact that plan and adjust for it. I struggle the most with a slice wind (coming from the left for right-handers), but my adjustments are to play the ball way up, off my left toe (below), and aim farther left than normal. The ball position and alignment help me start the ball on a path left of the fairway and, hopefully, let the breeze push it back into the fairway in the ideal spot.
“IF YOU DON’T HIT IT HIGH ENOUGH DOWNWIND, YOU WON’T GET THE DISTANCE BOOST.”
DOWNWIND TEE: IT HIGH AND LOAD UP
Everyone loves a hole where the wind is at your back. To take advantage of that, I tee the ball higher than normal—with half of it sitting above the driver when I sole it. I also position the ball just off my left heel. The last thing I do at address is tilt my right shoulder slightly down (below) and to the right. All of this promotes a higher launch angle, which gets the ball up and riding the wind. When I swing, I load up on my right side and then fire into the ball from the inside, trying to draw it for even more of a distance boost. If you do this, be careful not to get too much weight on your right side when you take the club back. It makes it harder to hit it solid.
HEAD WIND: STAY SHORT AND CENTERED
We're lucky we play mostly on firm fairways on tour; at least the ball will roll when the hole is into the wind. I play for that, trying to hit it 20 feet off the ground and chase it out there. At address, I tee the ball only an inch off the grass, play it about two inches back of my left heel and grip down a little on the driver (below). I also aim slightly left of the target, because the tendency is for the shot to squirt right as a result of the ball position—it's harder to square the face. The swing keys: Keep your weight centered between your feet, and make a short-but-smooth swing back and through. The mistake is to lean forward and hit down on it to keep the shot low. That creates extra spin, killing distance.
HOOK WIND: LET IT RIDE
I love when it's coming from the right, because my natural shot shape—a draw—curves with the breeze and goes forever. With this one my setup is standard, but you might want to close your stance a little (aim your body right of the target) to promote an in-to-out draw swing path. The shot's start line is important. I aim down the right edge of the hole so the ball will ride the breeze into the fairway. Note how I've released the club through impact (below). Don't try to steer it into play. With this wind, just hammer it.